TV – the (Un)Happiness-Effect

In the previous post, we were discussing the money and time-consuming aspect of having a TV.

Now let’s look on what happiness economics has to say on watching TV:

Source of the following is the book “Glück – die Sicht der Ökonomie”  from the  swiss professor Bruno Frey, who was one of the first to start scientific research on the measurement and causes of happiness.(English version here).  Highly recommended reading for those who speak German.On his website there are a pile of publications to download in English as well, however mostly very scientific papers and more complicated to read. I happend to hear an excellent lecture of Prof.Frey at the Ludwig-Maximilans-University of Munich in 2001 or so – another great leap on my journey to more good days to live.

First of all, average TV consumption is massive throughout the world:

3h 30min for the average German.

Even more, 4h 50min, for the average US citizen.

That’s a hell of a lot of time!

Let’s make some comparisons:

I don’t know what happened to this guy. Maybe he was watching too much TV?! (seen at Oktoberfest, Munich, Bavaria)

  • Over their lifespan many people will spend more time watching TV than working.
  • The average US guy will spent 1.700 hrs (or 70 days) watching TV per year.
  • He will have spent 13,5 years watching TV at the end of his life (assuming age of 85, start watching at 15 – rather optimistic I’d say).
  • Assuming 10 ads per hour, you will see 17.000 ads per year and – OMG – 1,2 million ads in your lifespan. (Given that ads increase your desire to buy things you don’t need that fact alone should be frightening and alarming to anybody looking for a more frugal life.

OK, fine, but what now are the outcomes of the economic research?

Well, first finding is, that people tend to be unable to control their TV consumption, thus in economic terms they are overconsuming, or consuming beyond what is good for them. They later tend to regret that they watched so much TV say on a given weekend, but they struggle to get rid of the habit (That’s probably why Mrs. Woodpecker wisely proposed to get rid of the TV-set finally).

Economic reasons for this are the low marginal cost of TV consumption (no cost to turn it on, that’s different with DVD rental or going to the cinema), no need to coordinate with other people, and immediate (however small) gain of satisfaction. Whereas long-term negative consequences cannot be seen immediately.

But the long-term negative consequences exist, among them are:

  • loss of social contacts
  • disadvantages in career and in education/studying
  • increasing loss of the ability to self-control
  • decreasing ability for imagination
  • increasing materialism and higher dissatisfaction with one own’s salary.

In other words:

(Excessive) watching of TV shows a lot of symptoms of an addiction.

English Garden, Munich

Take a ride on your bike instead of turning on the TV! (seen at Englischer Garten, Munich)

Additionally there are other, more subtle negative effects, e.g. general loss of self-esteem and well-being, as one unknowingly tends to compare his/her own life with the shining lives of TV-stars, heroes, VIPs etc. Thus the negative long-term effects of watching soap operas (as they always show very rich and interesting lives), is particularly high.

The results from statistical studies proof the negative overall effect of excessive TV watching:

  • A small and controlled amount of watching TV (up to an average of 0,5h per day – or 2-3 DVDs per week) is OK and even has a small positive influence on happiness. (Interestingly enough, without knowing this data, TV consumption at Woodpecker’s as written in the other post was 1700hrs over the last 8 years, equalling 0,58hrs per day – not that bad, isn’t it?! 🙂 )
  • From that point on, happiness decreases continuously with the time spent watching TV. The negative effect gets really significant for the average US/German watching time.

So, given these facts and the money savings aspect of not having a TV, you should now really re-consider:

Are you absolutely sure you need a TV ?!




9 comments on “TV – the (Un)Happiness-Effect

  1. […] And in the next post I will write about the happiness aspect of not having a TV, because there a some things that happiness economics has to say on TV consumption…(klick here to jump there) […]

  2. Vorname says:

    I have no TV since I left the home of my parents. I was always afraid it will steal my time. Instead I read a lot of books. Here the initial “energy” to start reading in the evening is high when you are tired after work. But since I have no TV there is sometimes nothing else to do. In the end I never regretted to start reading a book. Apart from that I go to the cinema almost once a week. Since I go so often I usually take the cheaper days like Monday or Tuesday. And of course I meet with friend in a pup.
    But everything changed since I have DSL. From that time on I spend more time in the internet and less time for reading. But internet is still more “active” than watching TV. For watching TV the only thing you have to do is choose one of the many channels (“40 channels of shit in the TV to choose from” Pink Floyd ;-). While by using the internet I have to know what I want to look for. That is a bit more difficult. Anyway after more than 20 years without a TV I still don’t miss it. Especially since you can watch some news e.g. on Spiegelonline videos.

    • mrwoodpecker says:

      Totally agree, I probably would read much less as well if I had a TV.
      Cinema I would even classify as kind of an active and social experience. If you watch a good movie in cinema and feel the exitement of the people around you that is a different world than a film interupted by ads and seen alone at home…

  3. ktn says:

    I have not had a TV since about 6-7 years now. I have not missed it at all. Instead, the addiction has been replaced by the Internet. I loathe the idea of having to give it up just in order to free up more time. But it is a serious issue – just as bad as TV.

    In conclusion, it isn’t the TV that is the issue. It is us, the addicts. Just like switching from alcohol to tobacco, it isn’t the substance that is the cause.

    Have your experiences been different?

    • mrwoodpecker says:

      No, absolutely the same experience unfortunatelly. Its funny, because in this moment when I read your comment, I am about to upload a post on this issue that I wrote offline during current travelling (good time to reflect on these things).


      • ktn says:

        Hehe.. when I saw the headline, I thought you had written it as a response to my comment. 🙂

        That was a good post. I like your recommendation. Gotta try it. Enjoy your vacation!

      • mrwoodpecker says:

        Could well have been a reply, but no, this crossed my mind same time as yours obviously…

  4. […] show for TV consumption, that ½ hour a day adds to your happiness, everything beyond is […]

  5. […] show for TV consumption, that ½ hour a day adds to your happiness, everything beyond is […]

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